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Gerald Carpenter: ‘The Seafarer’ Sets Sail at Santa Paula Theater Center

Conor McPherson’s award-winning play opens Friday and runs through Oct. 16

Conor McPherson’s award-winning, darkly comic play The Seafarer (2006) opens Friday at the Santa Paula Theater Center and plays weekends though Oct. 16.

Playwright Conor McPherson
Playwright Conor McPherson

The new production, directed by the theater center’s artistic director, David Ralphe, features sets by Michael Carnahan, lighting by Gary Richardson and costumes by Justine Abbitt, and stars Taylor Kasch, Michael Perlmutter, Scott Blanchard, Eric Stein and David Newcomer.

“The hack writer borrows,” T.S. Eliot wrote, perhaps facetiously, “the great writer steals.” If forced to choose between “hack” and “great” in dealing with Irish playwright and director McPherson (born in 1971 in Dublin), I should probably come down much closer to the latter. What some might call McPherson’s “borrowings,” at least in The Seafarer, are more likely to have been things he ate with his oatmeal, growing up in Dublin, in the shadow of the Abbey Theatre and the great British theatrical traditions overall.

His one obvious theft, the title of the play, is what baffles me most. The Seafarer is an Anglo-Saxon poem — one of four that survive in manuscript — of some 124 lines. In hopes of some illumination of McPherson’s play, I read through Ezra Pound’s translation of the first 99 lines of the old poem, but failed to make any connection.

McPherson’s Seafarer connects most obviously with the various treatments of the Faust legend. The play’s protagonist, James “Sharky” Harkin, shares only one thing with medieval scholar John Faust, but it is the main thing.

The mysterious Mr. Lockhart partakes somewhat of the “Unidentified Guest” in Eliot’s Cocktail Party, a great deal more of Inspector Goole in J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, most of all of Mephistopheles from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, with just a hint of the Knight’s black-robed, white-faced chess opponent in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. There are no doubt many more classical and/or Celtic allusions that I have missed.

It is Christmas Eve in Baldoyle, a coastal suburb north of Dublin. Sharky and his blind brother, Richard, are planning a poker game with two men they have known all their lives: Ivan Curry and Nicky Giblin. Nicky, invited by Richard, is an old romantic rival of Sharky’s, and Sharky is not pleased. Sharky has just recently lost his job of chauffeur to a County Clare developer and has returned home to take care of his brother.

The sibling hostility runs high, and the whiskey runs freely. To make matters considerably more complicated, when Nicky arrives, he has in tow the enigmatic Mr. Lockhart — who reminds Sharky that they have met before, under unusual circumstances, 25 years ago. It soon becomes apparent that the stakes of the poker game will involve something more than euros.

The Seafarer plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students, and can be reserved by clicking here or calling 805.525.4645.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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